Is it six degrees of separation or only two? We are connected to each other in this world.
I came across stories about Red Shea’s death in June 2008 from cancer. (Toronto Star)
Somehow I became connected to Red Shea so I put the theory to the test.
Looks like I’m only 2 degrees from Red Shea a great artist I never met and 2 degrees from Gordon Lightfoot.
In the early 70s at a Lightfoot concert in Montreal, I met Rick Haynes backstage, saw Lightfoot and was suitably thrilled.
Rick was and still is Gord’s bassist.
You have to be cool or so I thought. No screaming, no autographs, just a tip of the hat to Lightfoot and a wave.
Red, who hails from Saskatchewan, was Lightfoot’s lead guitarist through most of the 60’s. He also recorded with him during the 70s. Red is credited with much of Gord’s sound. You can find him on the early albums. He mainly played acoustic lead although I saw him try to play the kitchen sink once on Tommy Hunter.
My grandmother, Winifred Peardon, loved Tommy Hunter. She liked to make me watch him on Friday night, even when I was a teenager. I actually went to see him at Confederation Centre once.
Red was a fun-loving guy and prankster. On Tommy Hunter he did quite a few silly gags which relieved some of the show’s predictable character. Tommy would introduce the smiling red-headed guy as a special segment after he found the audience loved Red.
Being an unabashed Canadian folkie from the 60s, I knew who Red was and how good a guitarist he was. Red had a tasty style that we envied and some tried to emulate. If you listen to the early Lightfoot albums the sound is unmistakable. The lead guitar on If You Could Read My Mind is Red Shea.
My cousin Jim Smith from Ottawa (now in Yarmouth, NS) and I both were both Lightfoot fans and played all the songs. I remember many nights in Montreal playing Lightfoot songs turn about until Mrs. Ianno, the landlady, told us to be quiet. 3 AM isn’t that late when you’re 18.
She would lean out her front door and yell “What’s ‘a the madda wit you? You no go asleep?”
We went to Lightfoot concerts and dreamed about seeing him at his annual and legendary Massey Hall appearances.
“Saturday Clothes”, with Rick Haynes (left) and Red Shea (right)
Russ Townsend, Red’s friend and another guitarist
As an up-and-coming musician, Red kicked around Toronto in the 50s. One of his friends was fellow guitarist Russ Townsend, a big follower of Chet Atkins.
Russ was from the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia. According to Russ, he and Red shared many rowdy and adventurous nights in Toronto. Red was a dare-devil country boy who liked to shock people with his antics.
Russ left Toronto in the 60s, returning to Halifax to play and teach guitar.
The strange thread here is both became Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW), an end-of-the-world sect that frowns on the rowdy ways of musicians. I vaguely remember Russ telling me he introduced Red to the religion.
It was natural for Russ since his family was JW. For Red I suppose it was reaching out for religion after an irreligious period in his life.
Russ’s family was JWs. Edwin Barkhouse, his cousin, taught me Industrial Arts at Armdale Junior High. Townsends and Barkhouses are nice gentle people from the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia.
Rick Haynes, Lightfoot bassist
A mutual JW friend introduced us. Rick Haynes had converted to the JW’s by then. He shared that Red quit the touring band to stay away from the road life with its many temptations. Red settled down. His career centered on studio and TV work in the Toronto area.
When I met Lightfoot he was drinking heavily and bearing a grudge against the JW’s. First he had lost his favorite guitarist to them. Second they were always preaching to him about the end of the world. Then the guys had the nerve to stop partying after the shows. JW’s were a drag on Lightfoot’s life.
YouTube If You Could Read My Mind Gordon Lightfoot, Rick Haynes bass and Terry Clements lead guitar
Lightfoot made rules that they were not allowed to talk religion and especially JW religion while working for him. That meant on the road, in the dressing room and before and after performances. He saw their preaching as a threat to his career. It wouldn’t stop JWs though: I heard they were secretly trying to convert Terry Clements, Red’s replacement.
Rick Haynes stayed with Lightfoot along with Clements who is an excellent guitarist. When not touring, Rick was a family man living in one of the burbs north of Toronto.’
After being ill for many years, Lightfoot has toured again since 2005.
Speaking of Lightfoot, SCTV did a crazy send-up of Gord years ago. His dreamy style is parodied perfectly on some inane material. I fell off the coach laughing one Friday night watching that on TV in Murray Harbour North. Firehall Productions took the video off YouTube so I can’t show it.
My sons watched the CTV re-runs in the 90s on cable. They were both cult SCTV fans but I doubt they got the joke of the Lightfoot sketch.
Moving back to Nova Scotia in 1973, I ran into Russ Townsend at a music store and took guitar lessons from him for two years until I moved to PEI in 75. He had an amazing ability to play perfect renderings of Chet Atkins picking.
Russ opened up an understanding of what was possible on the guitar. The only Chet song I play today is “I Still Can’t Say Goodbye” an honest and slow tear-jerker.
I left the JW’s in 1979 which disconnected me from Russ. They don’t like it if you quit and practice shunning of ex-members.
Toronto The Beaches connection to Barry Keane
Fast forward three decades, my daughter marries James Quinn a local guitarist. They move to Toronto. She is taking Law at U of T and James is teaching at a music store in the Beaches and playing in several bands.
Up on a Toronto vacation during 2002, I met James Quinn one day at the store and he introduced me to Barry Keane, Lightfoot’s long time drummer who also taught at the store in The Beaches.
Barry brought me up to speed on Red who was quite ill and not playing due to arthritis. The was a sad end for a guitarist with hands from God. Rick was still living the middle class live north of Toronto.
Update – In the comments, Red’s daughter says Red didn’t have arthritis.
“Also to set the record straight my father did not have arthritis at all in fact he was playing guitar right up to the very end and was as passionate about it as he was being a JW.”
Back in Nova Scotia one day, I was talking to Harland Suttis the Nova Scotian luthier I met in the 90s from Music-stop. Suttis knew Red and Russ since he had played country music in Toronto during the 50’s.
Apparently arthritis had taken guitar playing away from Russ as well. Russ parted with his coveted Gretsch Country Gentleman with deep regrets.
Red is dead. He stayed JW: they did the service at a Kingdom Hall. The JWs like plugs when celebrity members get mentioned in the press.
Rick, Russ, Gordon and many others are still around. I keep bumping into various people connected to them. I think it’s less than six degrees of separation, more like two.
I updated this story to note the passing of Terry Clements on February 11, 2011.
“Terry was a terrific guy, and a wonderful friend and a great guitar player,” Lightfoot said in a telephone interview Monday morning.
“He was one of my best friends.”
Note: the relationship chart was made with a free program called Vue from Tufts University. Very cool and free.
Where to buy in you don’t already own some great Gordon Lightfoot records and CDs